As a church council, we have begun studying Paul’s second epistle to the church in Corinth. We are studying Kay Arthur’s, “Lord, give me a heart for You”. I just finished the first lesson today and I want to write a little bit on what we learned about suffering, which is not a fun subject, and the comfort that we receive from God while enduring difficult times in life. II Corinthians 1:1-11 is the main text for the lesson.
I. Suffering is a part of life, yet God uses suffering as an opportunity to comfort us with His comfort.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
It does not matter whether you are a Christian or a pagan, all of us will suffer during our lifetimes. It is not pleasant but it is a reality. The difference between those who suffer with God and those who suffer without God, is the fact that those who suffer with God, can expect to experience God’s comfort, while those who suffer without God, may never find comfort. God wants to comfort us with His comfort. Our job is to understand this and receive His comfort while we endure difficult times in life. This reminds me of the man who is on his roof while his neighborhood and house are flooding. He asked God to help him and a boat comes by. The man refused help saying, “I prayed to God and He will rescue me.” The water rises and there is no chance for help so the man cries out again in desperation and at that moment a helicopter hovers over him. He again refuses help saying that God will rescue Him. The water begins to carry him away and he cries out again. This time his pants catch a nail and rip terribly yet he is stopped from being swept away. He curses because his pants are now torn and God has yet to save him. He ends up drowning and stands before God furious, asking, “I begged for Your help and You did not answer, why not???” God replies, “I sent a boat, helicopter, and a nail. What more did you want?”. That is the way many people are. They see difficulties in life as a chance to complain and wallow in their suffering, while God wants to use these difficulties to pour out His comfort upon us and help us walk through the valley of suffering as victorious people. When you go through the difficulties of life, how do you respond? Do you see them as a chance to experience God’s comfort? There is an old saying, “if you cannot not change the situation don’t worry because you can change your attitude.”
II. When we experience God’s comfort we are in a state to share this comfort with others. It is one thing to talk about God’s mercy and comfort, theoretically, yet it is something totally different to experience it and then share it with others. God wants to comfort us in the midst of suffering so that we can feel with others who are suffering, we can identify with them, and we will know how to reach out to them and share God’s comfort with them. You cannot share God’s comfort with others until you have experienced it yourself.
6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation ; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer ; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
I remember when my wife got pregnant for the first time, after we had been married for three years. I was shocked, excited, and overwhelmed with joy. I was ready to tell everyone. Not two days after we found out, my wife miscarried and we lost the baby. I was devastated and had no where to turn but to the Lord. I was in a foreign land, away from my family. I turned to the Lord and together with my wife, we experienced God’s comfort. That summer, while leading a Bible summer camp. we had a young lady who found out that she was pregnant and lost the baby within the same week. My wife and I were the first to sit and talk with her because we knew how she felt. We were able to share God’s comfort with her (something she would not have experienced on her own since she was not a believer). It was amazing to see how God worked. I understood at that moment why God allowed us to suffer and comfort us.
III. God wants us to get to the end of our strength so that we will depend on Him and Him alone.
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively , beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life ; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead ; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,
Many times we think that we can do it all on our own. We are prideful and want to show the world that we can do it all. God says that He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Suffering can drive us to our knees, to the point where we admit that we cannot go on. When we hit that point, we are humbled and ready to receive God’s help. When you go through difficult circumstances, do you try to endure on your own to show everyone how tough you are or do you humble yourself and immediately turn to God for comfort? God is ready to comfort and give grace to the humble the moment that they turn to Him. You do not have to hit rock bottom first.
IV. Going through difficult times in life teaches us to turn to the Lord in pray as well as to pray for others who are suffering.
Until we walk in someone else’s shoes and experience what they are experiencing, we do not identify with them. We do not feel their pain. Once we go through it, we are more sensitive to the feelings of others and this leads us to pray for them, that God would comfort them in their time of need. I have experienced the power of prayer many, many times while on the mission field. I remember once, we were working with children in a village and the local priest stirred up some people against us, calling us names and saying all kinds of lies about us. The people were agitated and came for a “showdown”. We were able to share the Gospel with the people, then with the local officials and so on and so forth. Later that week, I found out that on that very day, a church in the States was praying specifically for us and the work that we were doing in the village. It was amazing. When we experience God’s comfort we learn to pray for others, so that they will experience it in their time of need.
What about you, are you going through difficult times in life? Do you seek the positive side of suffering, the fact that you can experience God’s comfort, which will cause you to know how to comfort others and pray for their comfort as well? A person who has a heart for God has experienced God’s comfort and seeks out others to comfort as well.